Ahh the great American road trip. When it comes to legendary adventure, there’s not many that can top the exploration of our vast and breathtakingly beautiful country. Traveling the open road to either planned or unknown destinations is a liberating feeling everyone should experience.
Planning for a big road trip is harder than it might seem. There’s a lot of stuff you need in order to be prepared for what ever the road throws your way. If you are travelling through some of the country’s incredible national parks (which you should be) then that adds another whole layer of preparation. We’ve included a fair amount of camping items here, but make sure to check out our Top 20 Best Camping Essentials list as well if you plan on camping your way across the country.
Having reliable equipment and gear to support you through your journey can really make a great road trip even greater. The items you pack become your sole belongings and your vehicle becomes your home. Packing an unpacking your car and setting up and breaking down camp turns into a practiced routine after just a few days on the road. Set yourself up for smooth sailing and make the most out of your road trip with our well thought out road trip essentials check list.
1. Kodiak 2 in 1 Trunk and Backseat Organizer
Keeping your vehicle organized on a road trip is totally worth it. It can become really frustrating digging around trying to find what you’re looking for amongst a pile of your belongings and gear. It takes a few stops to discover the most efficient way to unpack and re-load your vehicle. This trunk organizer by Kodiak is a pretty awesome unit to keep your vehicle from turning into a mess. It’s not meant to house any particularly big items, but it has quite a bit of storage space none the less. This unit could be perfect for stowing all of your cooking ware, photography gear or items for vehicle maintenance all in one organized space (to name a few ideas). The installation is a total breeze- it just attaches over the head rests of the back seat or of the front seat if you prefer to use it in the back seat rather than the trunk. Using this unit in the backseat could be great if you’re traveling with children who might have some toys, books, snacks etc. they want access to while driving. It’s made with pretty solid materials and highly reviewed, so this unit should hold up to some wear and tear just fine. Kodiak even includes a lifetime warranty on this product. If you want some further organization for the front seat, check out this sun visor organizer that’s currently 50 percent off for use above the driver or passenger seat. When you’re spending hours on end driving and making all sorts of stops, it’s really nice to have easy and orderly access to all your gear.
Price: $22.95 (48 percent off MSRP)
2. 150W Car Power Inverter DC 12V to 110V AC Outlet Cigarette lighter adapter
Here’s a must have for long rides — an all in one cigarette lighter adapter charger. This unit converts your vehicle’s power to 110V AC power, allowing you to charge all your electronic devices. There’s a USB output as well as a regular outlet, so this unit has you covered for whatever you need to charge. You’re going to need to charge your phone, camera, GPS and laptop, or maybe even power a car refrigerator — this device makes it simple. This unit conveniently lets you know with a warning light when your car battery is below 10.5 Volts — informing you that you need to turn your vehicle on and recharge the battery. If there’s too much current overload, this device will automatically shutdown the charger without blowing out your car’s fuse. This model also fits nicely into a cup holder if you don’t have a designated space for it, avoiding frustrating rolling and knocking around your dash. For just $22, this is a sweet item to have on board for your trip to really ensure all your devices (and your vehicle) stay powered.
3. Thermos Vacuum Insulated 34 oz Coffee Press
There’s nothing more satisfying than pressing your coffee in the morning while the birds sing for your campsite. Something about making coffee while immersed in the wilderness and sipping it in front of last night’s dwindling fire is just plain satisfying. Even if you’re in the lot of a motel 6, it’s nice to be able to brew your favorite coffee in a matter of minutes. Using a French press has become one of the preferred methods of brewing coffee, and lucky for lovers of a good cup of joe, they are very portable units. This coffee press by Thermos is the ideal French press for coming along on your road trip. Thermos vacuum insulation technology is designed to trap temperature and preserve coffee flavor and freshness. Thermos boasts this press will keep your brew hot for six hours, and customer reviews support that this unit keeps coffee hot longer than you should ever need to. Built with durable 18/8 stainless steel, its the construction of this French press that make it the ideal travel coffee maker. Its durable metal design is made to take a beating, so no more broken glass OR settling for crummy instant coffee. If a 34 ounce brew isn’t enough for your travel gang, then just whip up another brew, it will only take a few minutes! Ahh, the beauty of a French press!
Price: $31.99 & Free Shipping
4. Weanas Professional 3 Season Backpacking Tent
Tent camping is an awesome way to immerse into nature while traveling cross country. I can personally attest that this tent by Weanas is an excellent choice for a two man tent that’s going to see a lot of use. I purchased this tent in the fall of 2016 for a two month cross country road trip and pitched it consistently with ease. This tent was set up and broken down from the Great Lakes to Death Valley almost every single day for 60 days without issue. All the working parts from the aluminum poles to the polyester rainfly held up beautifully — I had no problems with the tent after about 50 nights of camping. There’s ample space for someone my height (five feet ten inches) to lay out in this tent, but anyone much over six feet might consider a tent with a bit more length on the footprint. Check out our Top 10 Best 2-Person Tents list for some more solid tent options. I really enjoy that this tent has two doors on either side — and that the rainfly has two different configurations for the zippered doors. One of the doors unzips from either side and can be modified into a little awning, and the other simply unzips through the center and rolls up to reveal the door — nothing too fancy but it’s nice having a choice of entry style to the tent. This is a three season tent, but I stayed toasty enough in temperatures as low as about ten degrees F. The high density mesh of the tent walls and ceiling will keep the breeze flowing and the insects out, and the 201T polyester with PU coating rainfly will ensure you stay dry. When the fly is secured, the inside of the material tends to accumulate condensation, so make sure to keep the included vents open to minimize this issue. Assembly of this tent is a breeze, in just a few minutes you can erect the two pole frame and snap it right into the main tent body’s clips — piece of cake! This tent by Weanas is a reliable, highly affordable and underrated tent for continued heavy use through almost any climate.
Price: $77.99 & Free Shipping (29 percent off MSRP)
5. Coleman Perfect Flow Grill Stove
What’s a road trip without a grill? When it comes to searing steaks or cooking up some dogs, the Coleman Perfect Flow Grill Stove is all you need. This simple and reliable unit by Coleman is a great camp stove and grill all in one. While a friend and I spent two months visiting national parks across the United States this past fall we prepared almost all our meals on this trusty Coleman grill. This model performed perfectly consistent day after day throughout our entire trip. The two in one design allows you to use the stove and grill at the same time, so you won’t waste any time cooking your meals. Coleman’s Wind Block panels help to shield the burners from wind and can also be folded down and used as side tables. I can’t speak enough about this feature — when battling high winds in the field it’s really helpful to have some built in protection from frustrating gusts. The Perfect Flow Grill/Stove puts out 20,000 total BTUs of cooking power, so there’s not really anything this unit can’t do in terms of camp cooking. It will fit up to a ten inch pan on the stove and sports 130 square inches of grill space, so despite its compact size you can cook a pretty decent amount of food on this bad boy! One last thing to note is that this is a very fuel efficient unit — my buddy and I only went through a few propane canisters over our two month long trip which we were quite appreciative of. Whether you’re preparing a campground feast or just need to boil some water on the side of the road, this unit is a highly reliable and easy to use option. Check out our Top 10 Best Portable Cookers for Camping list for some more solid options for road trip cooking.
Price: $86.76 & Free Shipping
6. LoveHome Memory Foam Lumbar Support Back Cushion
Depending on who you are, you might need some back support on those longer legs of your road trip. When you’re driving a ton of hours each week having some lumbar support for your lower back is really important for keeping your spine happy. My back rarely gives me a hard time, but I was really glad to have a back cushion to support my mid and lower spine when driving more than a few hours at a time. This memory foam lumbar support is a highly reviewed item that will be your best friend while driving. It’s covered in a 3D mesh ventilated cover, so it’s nice and breathable when its hot and humid inside your vehicle. There’s one easy to use extension strap included with this unit, so you can transfer it between your drivers seat and camping chair with ease. If you expect your back pain to be problematic when driving long hours, you might consider bringing an easily packable back roller to stretch out after long rides, I swear by mine. With all the sitting involved with a road trip, it’s nice to have an item or two that has your back covered.
Price: $19.99 (39 percent off MSRP)
7. Brolar Solar Crank NOAA Weather Radio with 2000mAh Power Bank, Flashlight, Reading Lamp and Survival Fire Starter
Here’s a multi-purpose safety and survival item that could come in handy in quite a few ways. Having the ability to stay tuned in to what’s happening in your local area when driving or hiking out of cell service and without internet can be important for keeping yourself and fellow travelers safe. It’s maybe the most important item on this list for travelers who plan on doing some rugged backcountry hiking or driving. When you’re in no-man’s land for days at a time, it’s really wise to be able to check weather forecasts and be aware of any alerts. This unit is particularly capable as an emergency radio because it can be self-powered by the included crank and also charged by solar power, AAA batteries or by a USB cable. There’s a power bank for charging other devices, a flashlight and even a survival fire starter kit included, so this unit has truly been made with a survival scenario in mind. This radio is impressively lightweight at only 13 ounces, so it can absolutely come with you backpacking into the wilderness. One minute of cranking will give you up to five minutes of radio time or over 30 minutes of flashlight power. It’s a portable power bank that if treated with care will provide you with unlimited juice for your devices wherever you are. Stay tuned in to any potential weather updates in your area and don’t miss any alerts while traveling far from aid.
Price: $27.99 & Free Shipping
Buy the Brolar Solar Crank NOAA Weather Radio with 2000mAh Power Bank, Flashlight, Reading Lamp and Survival Fire Starter here.
8. Leader Accessories PVC Waterproof Dry Bag
Lewis and Clark would have killed for a couple of these bad boys. If you can expect to get wet during your camp outs or hiking trips then owning a couple of dry bags can be a smart move. A simple, but effective design, the modern PVC dry bag is great for storing and securing gear during wet weather. This dry bag by Leader Accessories is perfect for keeping your sensitive gear away from the wetness, and it comes at an affordable cost. Available in seven different colors and sizes, (5 liter to 55 liter) there’s a Leader Accessories dry bag that’s right for you. This type of storage should not be overlooked as equally effective for shielding your sensitive electronics and other gear from fine dust or sand. If your backpacking route is going to take you over some dusty trails, you might consider encasing some of your items in a dry bag for added protection. Leader Accessories also includes an adjustable shoulder strap on this model, so it can be used as a day-pack on your cross country excursions. When dealing with wet weather and battling rains, stowing your gear in a couple of PVC dry bags will allow you and your crew to travel in confidence.
Price: $11.99 (56 percent off MSRP)
9. LifeStraw Personal Water Filter
I think we can all be amazed at the water filter created by LifeStraw. A seriously cool recent innovation in safe water filtration, the LifeStraw has changed the game for both packing and consuming water while camping or hiking. For just $15 you can stride through the wilderness in confidence knowing that you can safely drink from freshwater sources. Some landscapes in particular are ideal for owning a LifeStraw. For instance; while backpacking and hiking around Yellowstone National Park for a week last fall, my companion and I encountered countless streams suitable for drinking if we only had brought a safe filtration system. We regretted not having the option to simply lean in and drink from all the beautiful stream water we came across, and instead hauled around heavy canteens all week. Lesson learned — where there’s abundant water that’s suitable for filtration, leave the water bottles behind. The LifeStraw removes a minimum 99.9999% of waterborne bacteria (>LOG 6 reduction) and even surpasses EPA standards for water filters. Without employing iodine, chlorine, or any other chemicals, the LifeStraw is designed to filter up to 1000 liters of contaminated water throughout its lifespan. I even read some customer reviews that claimed the lifespan of their LifeStraw was more than doubled by attaching a regular coffee filter to the end of the device with a rubber band — pretty smart! For a super affordable cost you can purchase a LifeStraw and add it to your survival kit, backpacking equipment or regular camp gear. For such a reasonable price it’s in my opinion totally worth running any questionable water through this unit before consumption while traveling.
Price: $14.99 & Free Shipping on orders over $25 (25 percent off MSRP)
10. Icefox Rechargeable LED Headlamp
A good flashlight is always a must-have on any road trip. Rummaging around the campsite after the fire has gone out or illuminating the broken down engine of your vehicle requires a reliable light source. I have always opted for headlamps over conventional flashlights because they keep your hands free — because if you need a flashlight while camping or using tools you’re probably using your hands right!? Furthermore, I prefer rechargeable headlamps over battery powered lamps because packing loads of batteries is no fun. I learned this the hard way during my cross country road trip when my battery powered headlamp only had a charge half the time, while my buddy’s was always bright as can be because he would charge it in the car. This unit by Icefox is a well reviewed, high quality headlamp. With four working modes of brightness and a 90 degree rotatable lamp, this light is pretty neat. Although it may be a bit on the cumbersome side, the battery life (up to eight hours) and brightness (6000 lumens) of this headlamp makes it worth its weight. A few customer reviews claim it may be a bit heavy on the head for children, but as an adult this headlamp should not be overlooked. This light by Icefox will likely outlive your friend’s and save you the hassle and cost of purchasing batteries every other week. At $26, the cost of this headlamp is totally comparable to the inferior competitor lamps — why settle for a crummy flashlight or headlamp that costs around the same?
Price: $25.99 & Free Shipping (57 percent off MSRP)
11. Reebow Tactical Gear 115 Piece First Aid Kit
You should never leave home for a road trip without a complete first aid kit. This 115 piece kit by Reebow Tactical Gear speaks for itself — it’s got just about everything you need to patch yourself and your buddies up in the event of a minor accident, or to get you to adequate medical care in the case of a more serious injury. The compact and portable bag is about eight inches by five inches and the total weight is approximately one pound. You can’t really trim down a first aid kit any more than this without starting to leave important items out. There’s a few items in particular that make this kit a good fit for a road trip. A rescue whistle, a compass, a light-stick and disposable raincoat gives this first aid kit the edge over others for outdoor and traveling purposes. This kit comes from a trusted manufacturer at a reasonable price, so whether you want to add some of the included items to your existing medical supplies or need a place to start, this first aid kit is up for the task.
Price: $18.60 (36 percent off MSRP)
12. Top Gear Premium 66 Piece Roadside Assistance Kit
Here’s another must have kit for embarking on a road trip. When you’re relying on your vehicle to keep going and going, it’s important to have some items on hand in preparation for a breakdown. This 66 piece road kit is a solid buy for the long distance traveler. There’s road reflectors, bungee cords, zip ties, a multi tool, a pair of wool gloves and of course some jumper cables included here. There’s even some medical supplies to add to your first aid kit. Considering all the additional items, at just $36 this is a great value kit. Don’t get caught on the side of the road with no tools to get going again. One thing this kit doesn’t include that you will definitely want to include on your road trip essentials list is a tire iron. Here’s a link to an affordable and well reviewed tire iron if you don’t already own one.
Price: $36.20 & Free Shipping (25 percent off MSRP)
13. Hooway 7×50 Waterproof Marine Binoculars with Internal Rangefinder & Compass
Owning a quality pair of binoculars for your road trip is both a smart and safe thing to do, as well as something that can be fun to take along. When you’re driving through open landscapes it’s always great to pull over and observe your surroundings. When I was on my last road trip I really enjoyed peering through my binoculars when I was in the passenger seat. This pair of 7x marine binoculars by Hooway are a great option for adding to your vehicle’s gear. They are completely waterproof and will float — because why would you purchase a pair of nocs for continued outdoor use that would be ruined by wetness? This pair also employs a porro prism system for a particularly wide angle of view, great for observing the horizon line in an effective manner when out on the plains or looking out over water bodies or the ocean. The non slip rubber housing of these binoculars make them nice to grip and also pretty rugged and shock absorbent. There’s also a tripod adapter included with this model for mounting this pair onto a unit for increased stability. These would be awesome for observing wildlife and scenic landscapes from the car or from the trail. Definitely the most righteous feature of these binoculars is the internal compass and rangefinder — you can determine distance, size and direction of objects with this pair (pretty handy if you’re having a hard time getting back to the trailhead). All in all, this is a pretty killer pair of binoculars at a great cost to bring along for an array of uses.
Price: $129.99 & Free Shipping (19 percent off MSRP)
14. Catered Cravings Sweet and Salty Snacks Gift Basket (52 Count)
You’re gonna need some snacks on the road. When you’re crushing miles between destinations it’s totally necessary to have some food in the vehicle to keep you going. You won’t always want to stop for crummy fast food, so having some snacks on board to hold you over until you prepare your own dinner is always nice. There’s cookies, candy, power bars and more included here, so it’s a good variety of treats to satisfy your whole gang of travelers. You can absolutely count on spending a few bucks in the gas station on snacks almost every time you fuel up, so why not save some significant cash by stocking up prior to your trip? This snack kit definitely won’t last long, but it will still totally save you some dough for the first few weeks of your trip. Buy a few if you have the cargo space and stay snacking.
15. Teton Sports Oasis 1100 2 Liter Hydration Backpack
Having a good day pack is a must when you’re leaving your vehicle, hotel or campsite for the day. I really like this pack by Teton Sports. This is an excellent bag for the hiker or traveler who wants a highly efficient daypack that will last for years. This bag is loaded with features; it includes a rain cover, a bungee cord system for stowing gear, a butterfly opening ideal for accessing clothing and of course, a hydration bladder! Customer reviews insist that the two Liter bladder, sip tube and cushioned bite valve included with this pack are of good quality. This backpack is designed to have a low profile athletic cut, and is adjustable for all frames including men women and children. If you’re looking for a reliable, high quality hiking pack then definitely check this one out. Considering the quality of the materials used and the included hydration bladder and rain cover, this 18 Liter bag is a sweet value at just $40. If you’re in the market for a larger backpack for hiking or trekking or just want something with more capacity, check out our Top 10 Hiking Backpack list and our Top 10 Backpacking Backpack list — you’ll find some great deals on some really nice bags.
Price: $39.99 & Free Shipping
16. MallowMe 10 Piece Camping Cookware Mess Kit
A good mess kit is a must have for any serious camper or space saving traveler. If you’re preparing meals on a camp stove or grill you’re going to need some cooking ware and serving dishes. This kit by MallowMe is well reviewed and praised by camp cooks and backpackers alike. At just $20, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better valued set. Made of anodized aluminum, this cook set conducts heat quickly and washes clean with ease. The pieces included are a one liter nonstick pot and cover, a nonstick pan, two BPA free bowls and a BPA free soup spoon, a folding stainless steel spork, a wooden spoon spatula, and a cleaning sponge. It’s all there! There’s also a nylon travel drawstring pouch included to collapse everything into for transport. At just about one pound, this is a pretty inclusive set for the weight! Customer reviews insist all the pieces to this kit other than the cleaning sponge are great (some users did favorably review the loofa) — and that’s easily replaced! On a final and less practical note, I think this mess kit has a real badass look to it with the green on black color scheme. An excellent mess kit at an excellent price, MallowMe is the go-to on this one.
Price: $19.99 (71 percent off MSRP)
17. Rubberneckers: Everyone’s Favorite Travel Game
If you want to avoid the words “are we there yet?” then you’re going to need a game or two for the car. This travel game by Matthew and Mark Lore is a fun way to pass time on those grueling longer rides. If you’re going to be road tripping with children, then you’re REALLY going to need something to occupy the backseat. This card set is a combination of a number of familiar driving games that ought to keep everyone on board entertained. It’s a good way to pass the time and have some laughs when there’s no end in sight to your longer drives. Some other fun and classic car games to play include “Loaded Questions on the Go” and of course, Mad Libs. Avoid strangling each other after weeks or months on the road together with some prepared in-car game play!
18. Mpow Car Phone Holder
Here’s an overlooked item that you will come to love and appreciate. Most drivers use their phone as a GPS these days, and for good reason. Most maps and travel apps for smart phones are constantly updated and increasingly reliable — so why pack an extra electronic device to serve as your navigator? There’s a ton of phone mounts out there, but a lot of them will drive you nuts adjusting and setting them up….trust me. I rode with a friend after returning from my road trip who owned this unit and was really impressed by it. The phone mount I used while driving cross country attached to my vehicles air vents and totally killed the air flow of my AC and heat. This unit stays out of the way by mounting to your dash with a powerful suction pad. The mount is totally adjustable and will orient where ever you need it to. The suction pad is compatible with most surfaces, and it really works! Keep your cockpit clutter free and your phone in premium view with this handy and effective unit.
Price: $9.99 (41 percent off MSRP)
19.Wagan 12V Car Cooler/Warmer — 24L Capacity
Here’s an item you may not have even considered, but might be interested in owning. This 24 liter car cooler and warmer is an awesome and convenient piece of gear for a road trip. Being able to keep food items cold between destinations is something I did not consider on my road trip, and I was constantly throwing out produce and dairy items or giving them away to other campers and travelers! If you want to keep a little refrigerator going for your uneaten food between stops or maintain the warmth of some already prepared food on the road, this is an awesome unit. It heats to an impressive 140 degrees F and cools down to 32 degrees F. It’s an ideal size for stowing in the vehicle, not too cumbersome but still has plenty of space. This unit will work great with the car power adapter previously mentioned. If you have the space, this is an awesome piece of gear to own for the very reasonable price of $78. Hold on to your groceries and don’t waste anything on your road trip — you’ll be thrilled to have a working fridge or food warmer when you need it. If you’re going to need a cooler but are not interested in a powered unit, then check out this highly affordable 16 can cooler by Coleman or this larger 70 quart unit.
Price: $77.72 & Free Shipping
20. CURT Roof Rack Cargo Carrier
Here’s a must have item for those road trippers who plan on camping their way across their route, or just packing a ton of gear. If you’re going to be bringing along a ton of stuff it’s ideal to stow some of your more cumbersome and bulky items on top of the vehicle. Having some roof storage keeps the inside of your car or truck from getting cluttered and crazy. Organization is always appreciated when constantly loading and unloading your vehicle, so set yourself up for success with a solid roof rack cargo carrier. The problem with roof racks is that they can be VERY expensive — this option is one of the most affordable ways to create some extra space. This rack system by Curt will provide you with almost 11 square feet of extra cargo space, making a HUGE difference on the state of your vehicle’s interior. It’s very lightweight and simple to install on most roof racks. If you need your items on top of the car to stay dry and clean from dirt and dust, then you can pair this rack with the waterproof cargo bag also by Curt. If you’re interested in a top of the line car cargo system and can afford to shell out some cash, then check out this awesome unit by Thule.
Price: $97.09 & Free Shipping